“What happened last night? Did I kill somebody again?”
The earth shakes, the heavens tremble, and the stars no longer shine. Or, to put it another way, Julia Hoffman has a new book to read.
“As you know, lycanthropy is the study of werewolves,” she says. This is not actually the case, but cut her some slack. Nobody told her she was going to need a post-grad degree in cryptozoology.
“There are two schools of thought about werewolves,” she continues, which beats my estimate to the tune of two. “One is that a man becomes a wolf. The other holds that it’s a mental disease, lycanthropia, and he doesn’t really make the transformation; he only behaves like a wolf.”
Astonishingly, this is actually true — possibly the first true thing that Dr. Julia Hoffman has ever said.
The first recorded use of the word lycanthrope was in a 1584 book by Reginald Scot called The Discoverie of Witchcraft, wherein the Lewde dealing of Witches and Witchmongers is notablie detected, the Knaverie of Conjurors, the Impietie of Inchantors, the Follie of Soothsaiers, the Impudent Falsehood of Cousenors, the Infidelitie of Atheists, the Pestilent Practices of Pythonists, the Curiositie of Figurecasters, the Vanitie of Dreamers, the Beggarlie Art of Alcumystrie, the Abhomination of Idolatrie, the Horrible Art of Poisoning, the Vertue and Power of Naturall Magike, and all the Conveyances of Legierdemaine and Juggling are Deciphered: and many things opened, which have long lien hidden, howbeit verie necessarie to be knowne. Hereunto is added a Treatise upon the Nature and Substance of Spirits and Devils, &c.
Man, they really knew how to title a book back then, didn’t they? You hardly even need a table of contents at that point. There’s actually another title that was used for a 1665 printing that’s even longer, but I’m a little concerned that it might break the internet.
But what the hell, let’s live dangerously. This is the 1665 edition:
The Discovery of Witchcraft:
That the Compacts and Contracts of WITCHES with Devils and all Infernal Spritis or Familiars, are but Erroneous Novelties and Imaginary Conceptions.
Also discovering, How far their power extendeth, in Killing, Tormenting, Consuming, or Curing the bodies of Men, Women, Children, or Animals, by Charms, Philtres, Periapts, Pentacles, Curses and Conjurations.
The Unchristian Practices and Inhumane Dealings of Searchers and Witch-cryers upon Aged, Melancholly, and Superstitious people, in extorting Confessions by Terrors and Tortures, and in devising false Marks and Symptoms, are notably Detected.
And the Knavery of Juglers, Conjurers, Charmers, Soothsayers, Figure-Casters, Dreamers, Alchymists and Philterers; with many other things that have long lain hidden, fully Opened and Deciphered.
Are very necessary to be known for the undeceiving of Judges, Justices, and Jurors, before they pass Sentence upon Poor, Miserable and Ignorant People; who are frequently Arraigned, Condemned, and Executed for Witches and Wizzards.
IN SIXTEEN BOOKS.
By REGINALD SCOT Esquire.
Whereunto is added
An excellent Discourse of the Nature and Substance
of DEVILS and SPIRITS,
IN TWO BOOKS:
The First by the aforesaid Author: The Second now added in this Third Edition, as Succedaneous to the former, and conducing to the compleating of the Whole Work: With Nine Chapters at the beginning of the Fifteenth.* Book of the DISCOVERY.
Yes, that’s right — the title of this edition is so long that it has a footnote. They were an exhausting people in the mid 1600s, weren’t they, bless their hearts.
Anyway, the point of the book is that there’s no such thing as witchcraft, and we should stop locking up old women who squint at you funny. Reginald Scot was basically the anti-Trask, an honest and rational man lost in a world of dreamers, grifters and knaves.
It’s actually a really interesting book, practically an encyclopedia of every crazy thing that anyone believed in the 1580s. This was more than a hundred years before the excesses of the Salem Witch Trials finally dragged the whole witchsmelling industry into disrepute. People believed some crazy shit in the 1580s, except for Reginald Scot, apparently.
The tone of the book is a kind of long-form exasperation, as Scot patiently explains how everything is impossible. And he’s funny about it, too. I’m kind of in love with him.
For example, here’s a section on astrologers:
If you marke the cunning ones, you shall see them speake darkelie of things to come, devising by artificiall subtiltie, doubtfull prognostications, easilie to be applied to everie thing, time, prince, and nation: and if anie thing come to passe according to their divinations, they fortifie their old prognostications with new reasons.
Nevertheles, in the multitude and varietie of starres, yea even in the verie middest of them, they find out some places in a good aspect, and some in an ill; and take occasion hereupon to saie what they list, promising unto some men honor, long life, wealth, victorie, children, marriage, freends, offices; & finallie everlasting felicitie. But if with anie they be discontent, they saie the starres be not favourable to them, and threaten them with hanging, drowning, beggerie, sickenes, misfortune, &c. And if one of these prognostications fall out right, then they triumph above measure.
And our foolish light beleefe, forgetting things past, neglecting things present, and verie hastie to know things to come, doth so comfort and mainteine these cousenors; that whereas in other men, for making one lie, the faith of him that speaketh is so much mistrusted, that all the residue being true is not regarded. Contrariwise, in these cousenages among our divinors, one truth spoken by hap giveth such credit to all their lies, that ever after we beleeve whatsoever they saie; how incredible, impossible or false soever it be.
I mean, that’s perfect. If somebody asked you to write a three-paragraph smackdown of astrologers, I don’t see how you could improve on that. You know the saying, “he wrote the book on this subject”? Reginald Scot actually wrote the book on this subject.
Okay, I know I’m drifting away from the werewolf theme, but I’m going to share one more excerpt, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.
The most amazing part of The Discoverie of Witchcraft is Book 13, which is about juggling. Seriously, it actually is. He’s using the word “juggling” to mean all kinds of sleight-of-hand magic tricks, up to and including actual juggling.
Just looking at the table of contents for Book 13 is amazing. Check it out:
The art of juggling discovered, and in what points it dooth principallie consist. pag. 321.
Of the ball, and the manner of legierdemaine therwith, also notable feats with one or diverse balles. pag. 322.
To make a little ball swell in your hand till it be verie great. p. 323.
To consume (or rather to convene) one or manie balles into nothing. pag. 324.
How to rap a wag upon the knuckles. pag. 324.
It just goes on like this, for thirty pages.
A notable tricke to transforme a counter to a groat. pag. 328.
An excellent feat, to make a two penie peece lie plaine in the palme of your hand, and to be passed from thence when you list. pag. 329.
To throw a peece of monie into a deepe pond, and to fetch it againe from whence you list. pag. 330.
Then he gets into card tricks.
How to deliver out foure aces, and to convert them into foure knaves. pag. 333.
How to tell one what card he seeth in the bottome, when the same card is shuffled into the stocke. pag. 334.
An other waie to doo the same, having your selfe indeed never seene the card. pag. 334.
To tell one without confederacie what card he thinketh. pag. 334.
Finally, it just goes completely mad.
Desperate or dangerous juggling knacks, wherin the simple are made to thinke, that a seelie juggler with words can hurt and helpe, kill and revive anie creature at his pleasure: and first to kill anie kind of pullen, and to give it life againe. pag. 346.
To eate a knife, and to fetch it out of anie other place. pag. 346.
To thrust a bodkin through your toong, and a knife through your arme: a pitiful sight, without hurt or danger. pag. 347.
To cut halfe your nose asunder, and to heale it againe presentlie without anie salve. pag. 348.
To cut off ones head, and to laie it in a platter, &c: which the juglers call the decollation of John Baptist. pag. 349.
To thrust a dagger or bodkin in your guts verie strangelie, and to recover immediatelie. pag. 350.
To draw a cord through your nose, mouth or hand, so sensiblie as it is wonderfull to see. pag. 351.
That’s right — on page 346, Scot explains both how to bring a chicken back to life and how to eat a knife. On the same page! Clearly this is the greatest book of all time. Why did they even bother publishing any more books after this?
But let’s get back to the lycanthropy. Scot dispenses with the subject in one page in Book 5. He first acknowledges the story of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:33, where the Babylonian king is driven out of town to eat grass like an ox, but Scot explains that this was metaphorical and not a bodily transformation. And even if it was, then it wouldn’t be the doing of devils or witches; it would be a miracle by God, who can do that, so shut up.
Finally, we touch on the werewolves:
To conclude, I saie that the transformations, which these witchmongers doo so rave and rage upon, is (as all the learned sort of physicians affirme) a disease proceeding partly from melancholie, wherebie manie suppose themselves to be woolves, or such ravening beasts.
For Lycanthropia is of the ancient physicians called Lupina melancholia, or Lupina insania. J. Wierus declareth verie learnedlie, the cause, the circumstance, and the cure of this disease. I have written the more herein; bicause hereby great princes and potentates, as well as poore women and innocents, have beene defamed and accounted among the number of witches.
And that’s pretty much the whole thing. After that, there’s a chapter on whether witches can teleport, and what the mentions of “witches” in the scriptures really mean, and before you know it, you’re back at the card tricks.
The mental disorder, called “clinical lycanthropy,” actually does exist; there are patients who have delusions that they’ve been transformed into an animal.
There was a study in 1988 published in Psychological Medicine called “Lycanthropy: alive and well in the twentieth century,” and another in Psychopathology in 1989 called “Multiple Serial Lycanthropy: A Case Report”. Also in 1989, the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine published “Lycanthropy: A Review”. The late 80s appear to be a boom period in werewolf studies; they must have been inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
Most of the lycanthropy case studies aren’t actually about turning into dogs or wolves. You get a lot of horses and cats, and apparently foxes are common in Japan. There have even been some cases of people who are convinced that they’ve been transformed into bees. Just imagine being the psychiatrist on call when the bees guy comes in for treatment. How would you even begin that conversation?
While we’re on the subject of actual conditions, there’s also hypertrichosis, which is an abnormal growth of hair all over the body. In extreme cases, this has been called “werewolf syndrome”, which has to be super comforting for people with hypertrichosis.
Hypertrichosis is very rare, which is why you don’t see a lot of this in ordinary public life. There are several possible causes, including a genetic disorder, a particular kind of cancer, and metabolic disorders like anorexia. I have to imagine that this condition would come as something of a shock to your average anorexic. At that point you have two problems.
Anyway, the point of all this exposition is that Julia’s lycanthropology research is a whole new kind of narrative collision for Dark Shadows to experiment with — a vein of weird superstition, Biblical misinterpretation and psychological disorder that runs through history, infusing freak shows and monster movies with a whole set of exotic associations that they can adopt or discard as they please.
Narrative collision is what Dark Shadows does best, grabbing ideas from gothic novels and film noir thrillers and whatever comes along. Today, Gordon Russell had to write a scene about Julia reading up on werewolves, and in order to do that, he actually went and looked up werewolves, and wrote down what he found, and now it’s in our television show.
And Julia is the perfect embodiment of this confusion of sources, because she’s the character who acts as the translator between mythology and material reality. The chaotic universe throws another twisted, unholy perversion of nature at Julia, and she cocks her head, and asks for a blood sample. And once again, as always, the doctor is in.
Tomorrow: Chris Jennings Must Die.
You can see a complete scan of an 1886 edition of The Discoverie of Witchcraft at the Internet Archive. It’s 580 pages, and worth exploring. You will not regret any time spent messing around with this book.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The newspaper in Chris’ cottage is the same prop used in May 1967 to announce Maggie’s abduction. It’s from episode 238, and the full headline is “Local Girl Mysteriously Disappears”.
Before Barnabas and Chris enter the cottage, there’s a moment where Chris has obviously lost his place in the script. He looks at the teleprompter, and then begins acting again.
Chris tells Barnabas, “I’ve gone through it so many times, I really know all about it. I have all the phases of it quite under — control, and knowledge.”
Tomorrow: Chris Jennings Must Die.
— Danny Horn